As Jan. 1, 2018 — the date that adult marijuana use officially becomes legal in California — looms on the horizon, San Francisco remains woefully behind on creating a comprehensive plan to manage dispensaries, access, and equity.
The city has yet to determine how many dispensaries are allowed to open up, where they’ll be, and how to establish equity in a burgeoning industry. It has become the norm to see hundreds line up for public comment during six-hour meetings on cannabis, and with less than two months to go, the city known nationwide for its marijuana-fueled hippie movement — and in which 74 percent of voters supported cannabis legalization — is becoming a parody of itself.
The battle is largely taking place within the walls of City Hall. Sup. Ahsha Safai banned new dispensaries from opening up in his district in July. Sup. Sup. Mark Farrell only wants one on each of his major commercial corridors. Sup. Norman Yee wants a total ban on any in West Portal. And now there is talk of including daycares and preschools to the list of businesses that dispensaries must be 600 feet away from — and, extending that distance to 1,000 feet.
In other words, it’s a mess, and has been for months. For some, the situation has reached a breaking point. A star-studded list of current, former, and future politicians gathered on the City Hall steps Wednesday morning in a collective call for “reasonable” cannabis regulations.
Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Malia Cohen and Jeff Sheehy were all aboard, as were supervisorial candidates Matt and Haney and Rafael Mandelman. Senator Scott Wiener showed up, along with former Supervisor David Campos. And Tom Ammiano — a longtime LGBT and marijuana access activist — took the mic with half of his hair died fluorescent blue.
And they didn’t hold back. The press conference was an unequivocal jab at the type of regulations the aforementioned supervisors are demanding. Wiener, who’s never shied away from speaking out against opposition, called the proposals a serious regression.
“We created the medical cannabis movement,” he says. “San Francisco has led the way, and now California has caught up. And now we’re at risk of sliding back because the Board of Supervisors is considering highly restrictive draconian zoning proposals that would have the effect of making new cannabis businesses illegal in almost all of San Francisco.”
The proposals, he argues, “might in isolation appear to be innocuous.” But he points out that “when you put it all together it means that new cannabis businesses will be prohibited in almost every single part of San Francisco. How is that progressive? That is regressive, that is conservative, that is taking us back to a 1930s reefer madness approach to cannabis.”
Meanwhile, the report created by a Cannabis Task Force, Wiener argues, “sat on a shelf collecting dust.”
Cohen, who along with Sheehy has been fighting for equity in the burgeoning business, voiced worries that a lack of education is fueling the decisions being made. “It is deeply concerning that the alarmists and disinformed rhetoric appear to be driving the decision making leading up to our final vote,” she says. “The cannabis businesses on the horizon are not going to be a collection of seedy vice dens that people portray, letting their fear grapple their reason. They’re a professional small business seeking to sell a legal commodity.”
And Ammiano, who had the most history out of anyone present, spoke about the days of yore. “While Ronald Regan was refusing to even say the word AIDS, our cannabis community was making sure that people living with HIV were getting cannabis medicine,” he says. “And without San Francisco leading the way Californian would never have legalized medical cannabis or passed recreational last year. It’s a shame that the current Board of Supervisors is forgetting our history and trying to pass restrictions that take us all the way back to the ’50s.”
While those who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference voiced their unequivocal support for cannabis access — with Sheehy announcing he’s been a medical cannabis user since 1997 — there appeared to be little in terms of a call to action. A collective show of unity on the topic is never a bad thing, but at the end of the day, each supervisor is going to vote how they please, and at this point, it seems unlikely that Safai or Tang will waver from their regressive stances.
We can only hope that the supervisors and their colleagues can figure out a plan in the next 52 days.